Microsoft Planner: A lightweight project management application for the Office 365 enterprise

Image from Microsoft Image Gallery

I had to learn Microsoft Project years ago because I was the only one on the team who had the time and inclination to learn it. The software developers on the team would have nothing to do with the application. Good news is that the same thing can’t be said for Microsoft Planner, lightweight project management application that comes with Office 365.

Microsoft Planner joins Asana and Trello in what I like to call the lightweight project management tools category. These tools are simple yet powerful enough for team leads and individual contributors to update their progress during the project. Gantt charts were a common complaint I would hear about the application back in the day. Developers didn’t understand them. Stakeholders claimed to understand them. Since that Microsoft Project experience, I’ve been a proponent of the democratization of project management data. Microsoft Planner includes:


The heart of any lightweight project management application such as Microsoft Planner is the To-do. Microsoft Planner uses the concept of a “bucket” to organize To-dos. You can assign To-dos to team members. There are also the other usual fields you’d expect behind a task in a to-do application.

There’s not much new here, but that’s OK. I was hoping to see some provision for custom fields but didn’t see anything about that in the application.


Going back to my history with Gantt charts and MS Project, it was a first attempt at visualizing project data that never met the needs of the growing audience that needed to view the progress of a project. Microsoft Planner includes a Charts view that offers the following information:

  • Status
  • Members
  • Tasks
  • To do
  • Completed

Planner Hub

One of the areas where Microsoft Project and the previous generation of desktop project management applications went wrong was it was hard to organize different projects in a central location. Microsoft Planner includes the Planner Hub which provides one-click access to all the plans you create in Microsoft Planner.

It’s a simple yet elegant organizational tool that prevents you from hearing “where’s the plan for our project” and hopefully does its small part for encouraging team updates to your projects. It just so happened to generate plans for each of the SharePoint sites I setup while brushing up on Office 365.

Planner mobile app

There’s a mobile client app available for iOS and Android. While I use a mobile client app extensively with Trello, I can see where getting a mobile client app and the required access rolled out in some organizations could run into some bureaucracy.

I’d like to see more organizations make project management apps part of their standard devices for employees. At the least, the Microsoft Planner should be available in an enterprise app store for download to corporate owned and BYOD devices.

Office 365 Integration

While Asana and Trello both offer new integrations all the time, Microsoft Planner is rooted deep in the Office 365 platform. While the move makes sense, it’s not without its downsides. Too often, lousy SharePoint experiences haunt users well into new jobs and contracts. Microsoft Planner as part of Office 365 could be lost on some users who don’t want to use the platform.

Part of me wonders if Microsoft will ever offer Microsoft Planner as a separate option outside of Office 365. It could be an appealing option for SMBs and freelancers who may not need SharePoint in all of its glory.

Final thoughts

We live in an era where lightweight project management tools are growing in importance and popularity. Microsoft Planner includes a lot of the right things, but it’s for the Office 365 ecosystem only. Whether that makes it more competitive against Asana and Trello, I really can’t say. What I can say is that Office 365 implementation plans will need to account for Microsoft Planner or teams may miss out on this useful application.

My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist living and working in the Washington, DC area. My current focus is thought leadership and technical marketing content. I got my start writing user guides, administrator documentation, online help, and later moved into SDLC documentation. My articles about enterprise mobility, BYOD, and other technology topics have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, Samsung Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

Security for mobile project managers

More project managers are turning to cloud-based project management applications with a mobile client app — but security considerations should be top-of-mind.

Even Microsoft is putting more energy behind mobile for its Project Online platform. There’s also companies like LiquidPlanner, Mavenlink, and others who have been delivering innovative mobile project management app at speeds that desktop application vendors can’t touch. However, with all this promise, project managers need to keep security considerations high up on the list of requirements when moving their project management data to the cloud for access by tablets and smartphones.

Security options to look for when moving to a cloud project management application and mobile devices are workspace security controls on the cloud side, a well-designed mobile device client application, and access controls.

When I first started writing about cloud-based project management applications, I was struck by the multiple options to control access to project management data. I am a proponent of democratizing project management data, and with the appropriate device/cloud security, the marriage of mobile device and cloud project management application could make project management data more accessible to all levels of project team members, provided the right security is in place.

Beyond application security basics

When accessing a cloud project management application from a tablet or smartphone client, there are some basic requirements regardless of the application’s purpose, such as SSL connections being in place with verification of every call to the Web. Password resets should break the device’s connection with the cloud application immediately.

However, beyond the security basics, simple security management tools are possible in cloud project management applications that can put access security into the hands of the application owner. Cloud-based project management applications like LiquidPlanner typically use a workspace model for segregating and securing project data. When researching cloud project management applications, look for the capability for the workspace owner to shut down API access, because the introduction of mobile apps can open up new attack vectors through the theft and loss of mobile devices.

There also needs to be some segregation between the mobile device and the cloud. The cloud application should never permit interactivity, such as an upload, without explicit user permission to initiate the act. This segregation is available in a number of mobile project management apps already. You should also look for a cloud project management application that doesn’t do any long-term caching of information on the device side, so you never have to worry about the inadvertent transfer of project plans or data to PCs through a backup or synchronization process.

Security and the mobile client app

Project management applications in general have been getting larger, but mobile project management client apps break this pattern. You should look into the design of the client application and its interactivity with the cloud, especially when it comes to managing restricted access.

When moving your project management to the cloud and mobile devices, keep application, mobile app, and access control high on your list of requirements, right along with the certain productivity and reporting benefits the applications can deliver to your organization.

An earlier version of this post appeared on The Mobility Hub on August 1, 2012.

Image by taner ardalı via

Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week,, and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.